New Institute Aims to Train Practicing Social Workers

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, March/April 2003 | Go to article overview
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New Institute Aims to Train Practicing Social Workers

Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


"In the past the field of social work has been oriented toward caring for children and families," said gerontologist Scott Miyake Geron, of Boston University's School of Social Work, "yet, research shows that there are too few social workers trained to work primarily with older people and too few social workers in all practice settings who have the necessary competence in aging that they will need." Geron is head of the school's new Institute of Geriatric Social Work (IGSW), which was launched last fall under a $4.4 million, five-year grant from The Atlantic Philanthopies, based in New York City.

Geron explained, "In the past decade, there has been a growing recognition of the emerging crisis in the provision of health and long-term care to older adults. Health and social care providers have struggled to find enough qualified workers, and hospitals and other providers, to serve older adults." He added, "Failure to provide practicing social workers with the specific training and knowledge they require to provide care to older adults means that efforts to meet the care needs of our rapidly aging population will fall short."


Geron stressed that without the necessary continuing education "a vast pool of workers who could be trained relatively easily in the specialty will remain unprepared." Fortunately, he noted, "There is a growing acceptance of a broad social healthcare model versus the narrower medical-care model. This trend indicates that social work could be centrally involved in improving and promoting the quality of life for older Americans."

One example of what training is needed among all social workers is that "even in child welfare, where the number of grandparents who are raising grandchildren is growing, social workers' understanding of aging is increasingly important."

A crucial barrier to social work's fulfilling its service to older people, Geron said, is "the limited number of reimbursement options for geriatric social work." Yet the field of social work lacks solid empirical evidence on the effectiveness of geriatric social work practice.

One goal of the new institute will be to add to the body of sophisticated research. Using rigorous methods and experimental designs, IGSW hopes to demonstrate that social work interventions are beneficial to older people and their families and that they are "cost effective for third-party payers, notably Medicare and Medicaid," he said.

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